World of Warcraft used to be my game of choice. “Vanilla WoW” as they called it, brought me some of the best video game experiences I have had. Nothing quite like killing Ragnaros for the first time with a group of 39 other people you have never actually met. Experiences like this, the friends I made, and the elite group one was part of for having purples is what kept me playing. Then, Blizzard decided to give the game the “kiss of death” as I see it: accessibility.
Accessibility – or “catering to the casuals” as I call it – is slowly having an impact on the video game industry’s biggest titles. While change can be a good thing, accessibility seems to be exponentially finding its way to the forefront of video game designers’ minds. Is this a good or bad thing?
Whether it is a good or bad thing depends on how you look at it. On the one end, accessibility equals money. This is a great thing for the video game industry. Denying such a fact is absolute ignorance. More now than ever, a broader audience is sitting down (or standing up in the case of motion control) to enjoy our favorite source of entertainment.
The “Wii era” has brought about a unique shift in the industry. Casual gamers are a large market that can help drive the industry into the next generation. However, that same market can also shape it; which it is. Unfortunately, when a shift occurs, the minority is generally left with a sour taste in their mouth. In this case, the minority is the hardcore.
At first, it felt as if shovelware was going to be the driving force of games aimed towards the casual gamer. While shovelware still exists and is able to turn a quick profit due to short and cheap development cycles, they have quickly over-saturated the market and found their way off store shelves. Instead, casual games have become more mainstream through the quickly growing digital age.
Arcade and Indie titles have finally – and rightfully so – found their place in the market through the means of digital downloads. Casual gamers, over the course of 3 years, have been provided with an overwhelming amount of titles to fuel their gaming needs. But what has over-saturating the market really done except help transition the casual gamer into the next level of “gamer”?
It is starting to feel like the video game industry is doing a bit of hand holding. Drawing the casual gamers in, over-saturating the market to find what fits their needs, and then quickly trimming the fat to make them more of the mainstream gamer. But by doing so, the games we know and love reshape themselves to be more accessible.
The most recent example is Mass Effect 2. Undoubtedly one of the best experiences in a video game you can have. But the gameplay mechanics drastically changed between Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2. The reason? Accessibility.
Old-school RPGs as we know it are dying due to this one mindset. Mass Effect 2 stripped itself down to bare-bone RPG gameplay mechanics; almost to the point of obvious hand holding and streamlined progression. This is greatly evident in the weapon upgrades placed in missions, removal of kill by kill experience, and reduced number of upgradeable skills. What was once an RPG with shooter elements, quickly became a shooter with watered down RPG elements.
Whether these changes were for the best is entirely subjective. As was said previously, Mass Effect 2 is a phenomenal experience, but for entirely different reasons than those that made Mass Effect 1 an experience.
While shooters are a favorite among the masses, the changes in Mass Effect 2 made it feel like a cop-out. The removal of a lot of the gameplay elements I enjoy, in the name of accessibility, is extremely disheartening.
The same changes can be seen in the upcoming title Fable 3. Once again, a game is re-evaluated and its RPG elements are watered down to appeal to a broader audience. Accessibility was at the top of the developers’ and designers’ minds when attempting to bring the audience a new experience in the world of Albion. The latest dev diary below proves that.
Outside of RPGs, change can also be seen more and more each year in sports titles. Madden NFL 11 for example, is basing almost everything around accessibility now. With Mark Turmell, creator of NBA Jam and NFL Blitz, at EA Tiburon’s disposal, the latest Madden will undoubtedly see changes that cater to not only hardcore sim fans, but also the casual players that find Madden’s entry criteria to be a bit too steep.
Accessibility can be a great thing. A broader audience to expand and shape the future of the video game industry may be for the best. But as it stands now, as a hardcore gamer, the steps being taken to make games more approachable is starting to strip away reasons I play games.
Old-school gameplay mechanics that we know and love are being watered down or altogether lost. It has gotten to the point where I will be depending on one or two titles a year to fulfill my old-school gaming needs. The video game industry is driving the casual gamer in, and, at the same time, inadvertently pushing the hardcore gamer out.
Maybe I’m wrong though. Maybe this is the industry’s “video killed the radio star” moment. I honestly hope it is. Because if accessibility wins, the noobs win. Do you really want that?
Here’s to hoping the video game industry finds a happy medium. That way everyone wins.